There aren’t many pitchers in Japan who cut a more imposing figure on the mound than the Hanshin Tigers’ Randy Messenger. There might not be any actually.
Messenger stands 198 cm and weighs 121 kg even though you’d swear those numbers didn’t do him justice. He keeps his hat sitting low, which leaves a shadow across the top half of his face, adding another layer of mystery for batters waiting to see what pitch the powerful right-hander will deliver next.
“It’s just how I am,” Messenger says with a smile after his most recent victory over the Yomiuri Giants on Friday night at Tokyo Dome. “I always wore my hat that way, every since I was little. I just kept it going, and it just feels right. I just always liked my hat low. I didn’t like my hat way up here on my forehead.”
Messenger isn’t going out of his way to psych anyone out. He doesn’t need to. His pitching and his track record over the last seven years and counting pretty much speaks for itself.
Now in his eighth season in Japan, Messenger is one of the longest-tenured foreign players in Nippon Professional Baseball. He was 5-6 in 14 starts (26 appearances) in his first year, and has just tried to come back a little better every year since. He’s been consistent — reaching double-digit wins in five of his seven full seasons — and credits that to the knowledge gained through experience.
“Just learning,” Messenger said. “The whole learning curve of pitching over here, the different stadiums, different mounds. Just getting comfortable with just pitching in Japan and getting used to the hitters.”
Messenger is 76-65 with a 3.04 ERA in Japan. He reached 1,000 strikeouts last season (he currently has 1,147) becoming only the third foreign pitcher to achieve that mark, and the 145th overall in NPB history.
He’s gotten off to a good start in 2017. He struck out 10 over eight innings, allowing one unearned run, in his win over the Giants on Friday. That improved his record to 3-0 this year with a 2.49 ERA. He leaned on his curveball against the Kyojin, showing he doesn’t need to blow the ball past hitters to be successful.
“It’s a mixture of everything,” he said about the key to his early results. “Being a lot more consistent on pitching, not just throwing. Going in and out, up and down, changing eye levels.”
Messenger’s outing Friday was his first in Tokyo Dome since the passing of former Japan Times columnist Wayne Graczyk on Tuesday.
“I didn’t get to talk to him this year,” Messenger said. “That sucks. I kept busting his chops about not putting me back on the cover of his book (the Japan Pro Baseball Fan Handbook & Media Guide Gracyzk produced each offseason since 1976), and then he put me back on this year, and I wanted to talk to him.”
As was the case for nearly every foreign player for the last couple of decades, Messenger, unless he was the day’s starter, would spend a little time talking to Gracyzk prior to nearly every game the Tigers played at Tokyo Dome.
Messenger noticed the absence as he went in Friday, noting it would feel different to not continue that routine.
“It’s definitely going to be a little weird,” he said. “It was weird not even seeing him out there today. It’s my eighth year, I’ve seen him every time we come to Tokyo Dome. So it sucks. Great guy, he was always fun to talk to. It’s unfortunate. Hopefully his family and everybody gets through it.”
As Messenger moves forward, he’s looking to have more days like Friday, his longest outing of the young season. He went seven innings of one-run ball against the Hiroshima Carp in a win on April 14, and the Tigers are hoping he’s starting to get into a rhythm on the mound.
“I just have to keep doing my job,” Messenger said. “As I always say, the best thing I can do is go deep in every ballgame. That’s our main focus every game. If I go deep into the ballgame, then I know I’m doing my job and giving the team an opportunity to win.”
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